Three Rivers 18.1

Eighteenth Sim of Thirty Sims at Three Rivers

AN: Haley Salinas is a former NPC gardener whom I moved into a lovely home built by pronterus.

18. A toad sings in summer rains


Each day, when Haley Salinas returned home from work, she stood before the boxwood and impatiens in the front border and whispered thanks. She had so much, and the memories of the time when she had nothing smack in the middle of nowhere lurked in the shadows, too keen and just a trigger away.

Over the years, the demarcation between everything and nothing had become a source of safety. The sharper she drew the line, the safer it felt.


She invented rituals to keep the line in place: the whispered prayer of gratitude; the three strides across the front porch; the glass of water before she changed out of her work clothes.


She had learned, through the years, to check in with herself. Most days, she could laugh. She had so much.


Some days, when she checked in, she found her nose against the line, with nothing staring her down from the other side. On those days, she’d drink another glass of water or brew a pot of coffee and then she’d do something: paint, garden, swim, go for a walk, go to a meeting.

Those days weren’t often, and this was another reason for thanks.

One evening, arriving home from work, she met Janet outside.


“What are you doing here, so far from home?” she asked.

“Canvasing,” replied Janet. “Your next-door neighbor?” she said, gesturing towards Hank Merril’s house. “He’s a registered Green. But we’ve never seen him at any of the events. You know him?”

Haley had to admit they’d never met. “I see him coming and going,” she replied, “but I don’t even know his name.”

Haley wasn’t sure she wanted to know her neighbors. She found comfort in anonymity–and she suspected her next-door neighbor felt the same way.

Haley remembered her manners and invited Janet in. Doing so, she forgot the moment of gratitude, forgot to count the strides across the porch, forgot the glass of water.


“Your home is lovely,” Janet said, “beautiful and comfortable.”

All at once, the gratitude, the strides, the waiting glass of water rushed in upon Haley, and she breathed out, “Thanks!”

There’s more than one way to keep a line drawn, she realized.

“Have you been following the Three Rivers council meetings?” Janet asked, as they sat in the living room.

She hadn’t.

“The budget talk for next year is looking scary already. They’re talking about cutting funding for community projects.”

“Oh, they’re always saying that,” said Haley.

“This time gardens are on the list,” said Janet.

“They wouldn’t dare! Community gardens? Do they realize how many low-income families our gardens feed?”


“That’s one of the reasons the fall elections are so important,” Janet said. “That’s why we’re trying so hard to reach out to each voter. Now’s the time we can use the help, too, while we’re organizing the campaign.”

It didn’t take long for Janet to persuade Haley to help out more, including convincing her to reach out to Hank Merril.


That’s how Haley found herself on Saturday afternoon fixing supper for her next-door neighbor. She had to smile, thinking that they’d lived next to each other for nearly six months without speaking a word. But the moment she introduced herself, they fell into that deep type of conversation that sometimes happens upon first acquaintanceship. He could be a friend, Haley thought. Or maybe even something more.


She’d brought home fresh tomatoes from the Willow Creek gardens, which she’d worked at the day before. All that humidity in Willow Creek created tomatoes that were so sweet, so juicy!


Over supper, she and Hank fell into an easy conversation. He knew a lot about gardening from a horticultural point of view, talking about the genetics of sweeter tomatoes and little known organic compounds in heirloom carrots.


More than once, she found him gazing at her. She had to work hard to find a way to describe his expression without using the word “puppy dog.” She finally settled for tender. He looked at her with a tender smile and soft laughing eyes.


“I haven’t seen anyone since becoming sober,” he said.  And with that, she understood the familiarity she felt with him.

“How long has that been?” she asked.

“Six months and fourteen days,” he replied.


“Ten years for me,” she replied. She showed him her ten-year medallion. “Ten years, two months, and twelve days.”

“That’s a lot of ones and twos,” he said.

So that was that. You don’t 13th Step a Beginner, she reminded herself, not that she needed reminding. She’d had it drilled into her, along with, “two sickies do not make a wellie.”

She was working on her own wellness. Most days, she had it. But there was that thin line, and on the other side, nothing always waited. For Hank, she knew the line was even sharper.


“Cup of coffee?” she asked, as she cleared her salad bowl.

“Sure. Got any honey? I like it with honey and soy milk.”


She looked at him from kitchen archway. All that baggage. She could see it clearly now, for she carried her own matching set. She kept trying to put it down, and next thing she knew, she was carrying it still.


Rain began to fall, summer rain, carrying with it the scent of creosote bushes and mesquite pods: bitter and sweet. He watched the rain fall out the dining room window.

“Can you hear them?” he said as she pouring the coffee. “The spadefoot toads. Singing for their mates.”

It was like notes in an arpeggio.

“I’d better go,” he said, when the rain let up.

She woke early the next morning and sat on the back porch. The toads in the pond still sang–three of them, from what she could hear.


Once the sun rose, she’d venture down to the edge of the pond to find the clear jelly filled with black eggs lining the rocks and rushes. By afternoon, the jelly will have dissolved and each egg will have unfurled into a tadpole with a strong black tail.

Three Rivers 1.1

This short story is the first entry of Thirty Sims at Three Rivers.

  1. Clouds from the Pacific blow over the desert


When Hank Merril got out of rehab, all he had to do was show up: show up for meetings, show up for work. But he didn’t want to show up. He wanted to be left alone.

They’d saved his spot for him at the science lab where he’d worked as a technician, but he didn’t want to go back. He couldn’t stand to face them after what had happened during his last few months there, that spiral down that had led him to get checked into Bright Days Recovery Center.

His caseworker helped him secure a rental and a job in a new town where he didn’t know anybody. Until he went to his first meeting, that is.

“So, then,” said his sponsor, “this is like a new start.”


Hank didn’t like Johnny at first. All those shiny slogans: First things first. One day at a time. Easy does it. Keep the plug in the jug.

“It’s not easy for any of us,” Johnny said. “Life’s not easy. But then, it’s not always hard, either. And sometimes, when it’s easy, that’s when it’s the hardest.”

Hank chuckled. Maybe Johnny got it.


“I’ll make you a deal,” Hank said. “I’ll show up. I’ll work the program. I won’t expect to be happy, and I’ll learn how to tolerate boredom. And in exchange, you think maybe I could get a little time alone, now and then?”


“You know we don’t make deals,” Johnny said. “You got my number.”

When Hank showed up for his first shift as an orderly at Valley Hospital, he thought maybe it won’t be so bad. The lobby was empty, save for one of the doctors on duty and the receptionist.


He just about lost it during his orientation, though.

“This is where we keep the prescription drugs,” Melody, the receptionist, said, showing him a locked door. “Only doctors and nurses have access, so, you know, you won’t need to…”


By the end of the tour, Melody was joking with him. She led him back to the break room.

“It’s usually pretty quiet here,” she said. “This is where I escape to when it gets to be too much and I just need a minute to find my head. I’ll leave you here. You can start your duties after you’ve had your break.”

When she left the room, a wave of calm blew in. He listened to the song over the speaker: Neil Sedaka. That was ole-timey. It felt good, though.

He liked the neutral colors, too. Calm.


Don’t get too happy, he told himself. Pleasure was a sharp knife–too intense and it just kicked in, and he had to have it.

Nothing too good–the chocolate pastry was just stale enough to work. Easy does it. First things first.


The day was long and he was tired when he got home. He’d done it. The first day of thousands. One day at a time.

Maybe he should go to a meeting.


He took a shower instead. Every slogan he’d told himself that day made him feel dirty.


Show up. He washed it away.


Work it. He let the water caress him.


A new start. He felt warmth reach deep inside him.


Hope was a dangerous thing: it broke his resolve. It made him soft. He wouldn’t hope. He’d just be there, in the downpour of the moment, suspended between pleasure and pain, hope and despair, slogans and truth. A razor ran between two poles, and he was gonna walk it.

He was gonna make it, right?